Taking the International School Route: What You Need to Know to Get Started on an Overseas Teaching Career

Cory Scott
American International School in Dhaka (Bangladesh)
6/10/2013


The opportunities for U.S. citizens to teach overseas are as varied as they are plentiful. From applying for a stint in the Peace Corps to casually picking up work at any of the thousands of language institutes around the world, there truly is something out there for everyone. For teaching professionals seeking a longer-term overseas commitment, however, a slightly more competitive (and much higher paying) option exists.

Nearly every capital city in the world plays host to what I’ll call an “international school.” Some, like the school where I teach now, are known as “American” international schools, while others call themselves “colleges.” Despite the discrepancy in their names, these independent, K-12, U.S.-accredited schools all have a common goal: to provide a high quality American-curriculum education to a primarily expatriate clientele. They boast outstanding facilities, diverse student bodies, and extremely competitive salaries and benefits for teachers.

The students themselves, though, are the very best reason to teach at any international school. As sons and daughters of diplomats, aid workers, missionaries, and/or successful business people, the students tend to be well informed, motivated, and exceptionally tolerant. Many have lived all over the world and most speak several languages. Their exposure to new cultures and different people leave students from international schools open to new ideas. Simply put, they are a delight to teach.

But the students are not the only delightful aspect of teaching at an international school. Altruism aside, there is the travel and, of course, there is the money. Over the course of the last two school years my wife, two daughters, and I had the good fortune to explore Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Frankly, we wouldn’t have been able to manage this feat if it weren’t for the outstanding financial package offered by our school.

Typically, international educators can expect to make what they might at a private school in the United States. Bear in mind, however, that your salary will be tax-free under U.S. laws, and rarely will you be required to pay host-country taxes. In addition, most international schools provide their teachers with furnished housing, round-trip airfare at the beginning and end of each contract, attractive retirement programs, full tuition remission for dependents, and comprehensive medical coverage. Two of the three schools I’ve taught in even gave me the use of a car.

It is not unheard of for a teaching couple to live comfortably and travel on one salary and bank the other, particularly if they are teaching in a developing nation. If you sign on in a city like Paris or London, though, all bets on saving are off.

The process for securing a teaching (or administrative) position at an international school is fairly straightforward. International School Services (www.iss.edu) and Search Associates (www.searchassociates.com) are two highly regarded placement agencies that work as liaisons between international schools and teachers looking for jobs overseas. They organize recruitment fairs in the U.S. every February, and you can count on at least one fair taking place on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. The University of Northern Iowa (www.uni.edu/placement/overseas) also hosts a popular job fair in February.

TIPS FOR LANDING A TEACHING POSITION AT AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL 

Take steps to ensure you are qualified to teach at an international school. Generally, schools require that applicants hold a valid teaching certificate and a bachelor’s degree in their subject area. They also ask that you have at least two years of full-time teaching experience.

Begin your search early. Organizations like International School Services and Search Associates begin to fill spaces for their winter recruitment fairs in the early fall. While the schools won’t know exactly what openings they have for the following school year until January, it’s a good idea to have your file completed by mid-October.

Contact schools directly in the late fall by sending a brief cover letter and a resumé. Don’t expect much more of a response than a “thank you” or a, “We look forward to seeing you at the job fair,” since schools won’t know their vacancies yet, but you would be wise to get your name and information in their files.

Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about schools that interest you by reading about them on the internet. Almost all overseas schools have extensive websites that can provide you with valuable insights about the school and school community. The Office of Overseas Schools (www.state.gov/m/a/os), which is administered by the State Department, lists international schools by region and provides information about teaching overseas.

Attend a job fair. These massive conferences have a distinct meat-market atmosphere, but they are the best way for candidates to meet administrators face-to-face. Very few international schools will hire a first-time overseas teacher without conducting an interview first.

Bring a stack of resumés that have your picture attached. Overseas administrators see dozens of candidates for a single position during each of the three or four conferences they attend, so having a face attached to a name can be very helpful.

Be flexible. If you go into the process thinking you’ll only be satisfied if you find a job teaching Advanced Placement English in Brussels, chances are you’ll wind up being disappointed. By all means, target a region or a continent, but don’t discount other possibilities. My wife and I went to our first recruitment fair thinking we were bound for Asia but ending up spending a thrilling two years in Cairo.

Cory Scott is in his fourth year of teaching high school English and Speech at American International School/Dhaka (Bangladesh). He previously taught in Cairo and New Delhi, as well as at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas.